Ben Margot / Associated Press (m2pk44pd20120418210718/600/491x600 )
The Lakers (36-34) went winless in Week 21 against two sub-.500 teams. A short-handed loss to the Suns in Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back might have made some sense -- but losing an 18-point lead to the Washington Wizards at Staples Center was a debacle.
Now the Lakers have 12 games left to climb to the sixth or seventh seeding in the Western Conference -- or at the very least protect their hold on eighth place. That battle takes shape on Monday with a visit to the Golden State Warriors.
With two defeats, the Lakers fell four losses below the cumulative predictions for weeks 1-21.
Monday at Golden State Warriors
The Lakers defeated the Warriors twice earlier in the season. The first was at Staples Center in November (101-77), right after Andrew Bogut was lost with a knee injury.
Steve Nash made his return from a leg injury to lead the Lakers to a 118-115 overtime win in Oakland in late December.
Golden State is still 3 1/2 games ahead of the Lakers, but the two Pacific Division rivals meet twice before the end of the season. The Lakers may need to sweep both if they want to catch the Warriors in the standings.
Stephen Curry is having a tremendous season, averaging 22.4 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 45.0% from the field and 45.8% from behind the arc. He's coming off of a sprained ankle and won't be 100% against the Lakers. Assuming he plays, Curry is a handful.
The Warriors will be a different team against the Lakers with Andrew Bogut on the floor.
The Lakers are coming off the disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards. A win on Monday would be a big step back.
Wednesday at Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves (24-44) won't get Kevin Love back in time for the visit from the Lakers.
Chase Budinger (knee) is back in the lineup but the Wolves are just playing for pride at this point.
The Lakers defeated the Wolves in Minnesota in early February (111-100) and then later in the month at Staples Center (116-94). Wednesday is the third and final meeting between the two.
If the Lakers do get the win in Golden State, a follow-up victory in Minnesota would show the team is regaining focus after a down week.
The Wolves play in Detroit on Tuesday, hosting the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back.
Thursday at Milwaukee Bucks
The Lakers haven't won a back-to-back set all year. Milwaukee is their next chance but it won't be easy.
The Bucks (34-35) have struggled lately and will be coming in from Philadelphia the night before as well. Kobe Bryant hounded Brandon Jennings in a 104-88 Lakers victory in January.
With Bryant recovering from his recent sprained ankle, is he ready for that level of play defensively?
The Lakers need to make up for the two losses last week. A win in Milwaukee would be a big step.
Saturday at Sacramento Kings
The Kings (25-46) always battle the Lakers hard in Sacramento, regardless of the standings.
The Lakers split two games in November, winning at Staples Center and losing on the road. They also defeated the Kings, 113-102, on March 17 despite missing Pau Gasol and Bryant.
Isaiah Thomas and Patrick Patterson gave the Lakers serious problems. Center DeMarcus Cousins sat out with injury.
At the end of the road trip, this may be the most difficult game for the Lakers -- but it's one they should be capable of winning.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.